116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — From July 2019 to 2022, the number of people who were homeless living on the streets more than tripled to 107. But that’s only a count of the living.
The 30 people who were homeless who died in 2022 may not have been seen or heard often in life as they lived on the streets. But on Wednesday, they were seen and heard by the living who knew them.
“Those who become homeless are often unseen and forgotten. But tonight and going forward, we must see each other,” said Stefanie Munsterman, executive director of the Cedar Rapids Civil Rights Commission. “Let’s remember we do belong to each other. We are connected to each other and we’re responsible for one another.”
Though their voices have been physically silenced, each person was honored with their name read aloud and their memories replayed through the ones whose lives they touched most at the Homeless Persons’ Remembrance Day Memorial hosted by Willis Dady Homeless Services in partnership with the Cedar Rapids Civil Rights Commission.
For those who knew Lisa, the nature of the tribute was fitting.
“She was not quiet, ever,” said Jennifer Tibbetts, a civil rights investigator for the Cedar Rapids Civil Rights Commission who knew her well. “She would always help with finding the words and finding the way to capture the true feelings of everything we experienced.”
Lisa was the epitome of resilience, always able to offer captivating words. She always saw the silver lining or lesson in her challenges, and spread that wisdom to ensure nobody she knew would have to go through what she went through.
Still, she never lost sight of dreams — the possibilities of what could be.
Then one day, Tibbetts realized Lisa’s voice had not rung in her ears for a while after her summer death. The memory of her voice was the only thing she had left.
With 29 others like Lisa honored in Cedar Rapids, that’s become more of a norm for those who know people living homeless.
“It’s become a lot more noticeable,” Tibbetts said after reading a list she said was longer than previous years.
Today, Lisa lives on in her life through one lesson: to never hold back from speaking what’s on your mind, because you don’t know if you’ll have the chance to say it again.
For Meredith Crawford, a community engagement librarian for the Cedar Rapids Public Library, it was hard to sum up Hector Perez in one sentence.
“I don’t know that I’ve ever met someone who had tried harder at working through their challenges and barriers while trying to bring other people along with them,” she said.
The Hiawatha man went missing in December 2021. His body was found in March 2022. He was 41.
Hector had a lot of challenges in life. But to Crawford, he was the one she would “go to church” with through nature walks every Sunday, and the one who played Pokemon with her kids at their home.
The loss of people like Hector sneaks up, she said, until those who they greet every morning at the library doors realize how long it’s been since they said “good morning.”
“You realize what a place these people, who you might know on a first-name basis, have in your life,” Crawford said.
Those who knew him best called him “Superman” on the notes they left next to his candle at the memorial.
Those still living
For others, the event was more than a chance to think about those who have died — it was a catalytic reminder to tend to the living, too.
“Let’s stop this. Let these be the last people who die on the streets,” said Daniel Reed, an advocate for the homeless who has been working with those on the streets and in encampments since 2015. “I do what I can, but I’m only one person. It takes a community to end this.”
“Dogs get better treatment than humans. Where’s the no-kill shelter for humans?” he added. “Because from those candles I see, it sure ain’t here.”
Recent updates from Willis Dady staff estimate that the homeless population living on the streets has continued to grow since the last count in July.
Housing is the answer to homelessness, advocates say. While housing is a human right, it is also a prerequisite to many human rights, said Munsterman — employment, health care, safety, schools, social services and more.
“We must honor their lives by working to provide solutions to end homelessness. We grieve their passing and we let their memory drive us forward from a long, dark night into a brighter and more hopeful tomorrow,” she said.
“Let us show up tomorrow, as well.”
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